FBI Files Provide Chilling Look Into the Mind of Jeffrey Dahmer

By: Suzie Dundas  | 
Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer and sex offender who murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Dahmer was sentenced to 15 terms of life imprisonment. Curt Borgwardt/Sygma via Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix docuseries "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" is highly rated but criticized for causing trauma to victims' families.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer, a notorious serial killer, murdered 17 men and boys, mostly Black and Asian gay men, between 1978 and 1991.
  • Despite multiple encounters with police, Dahmer was finally caught when victim Tracy Edwards escaped and reported the crimes, leading to his arrest and confession to 17 murders.

The new Netflix docuseries "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" debuted Sept. 21, and is one of its highest-rated programs ever, despite cries from families of Dahmer's victims who say they weren't consulted and that the show is causing them trauma once again. It also, once again, puts the spotlight on Jeffrey Dahmer, arguably one of the world's most famous serial killers who operated mostly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, between 1978 and 1991.

Dahmer murdered his first victim even before he graduated from high school in 1978. He eventually murdered 16 more men and boys — mostly Black and Asian gay men — in especially heinous ways, and by his own accounts to the FBI, the police could have caught him many times but failed to.


"Americans have been obsessed with murderers since the days of public executions in Puritan times, but we started consuming crime as pop culture in the early 1800s when the penny press realized that murder sells newspapers," says Adam Golub, professor of American studies at California State University, Fullerton and co-editor of "Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us."

So, what's the real story on Jeffrey Dahmer? How did he justify his horrific crimes? And what could have possibly made him turn to cannibalism? Here's the scoop straight from Dahmer's own words and the FBI files on his case.


What Made Jeffrey Dahmer Murder?

Jeffrey Dahmer
FBI interviews with Jeffrey Dahmer reveal gruesome details about why he resorted to horrific acts like cannibalism. Curt Borgwardt/Sygma via Getty Images

"True crime is one way that we try to make sense of transgression in society. How we tell these stories, and how depict the criminal's motivation, reflects our desire to believe that there's reason and order in the world, rather than chaos and evil," Golub says. "So, we search for explanations that may not really be there. We desperately need to believe that there is a human explanation for monstrosity. Otherwise, it's terrifying — what are we really dealing with out there?"

But throughout the FBI transcripts of several interviews with Dahmer, he never placed any blame nor gave any explanation for why he murdered. During an interview with the FBI in August 1992, he was asked if any childhood events contributed to his becoming a serial murderer and Dahmer said no.


"It's still a mystery to me," he told the FBI. "I have no idea why I started getting the fantasies and thoughts when I was about 16. That's when it started kicking in." Two years later in 1978 — at age 18 — he committed his first murder, hitchhiker Steven Hicks.

Even after he was caught, he repeated this assertion in a 1993 jailhouse interview with Nancy Glass of "Inside Edition." "The person to blame is sitting right across from you. It's the only person," Dahmer said. "Not parents, not society, not pornography. I mean, those are just excuses."


How Did Dahmer Get Away With So Many Murders?

Jeffrey Dahmer victims
Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men and boys. These are his victims (top left) Steven Hicks, 19; Steven Tuomi, 24; James "Jamie" Doxtator, 14; Edward W. Smith, 27; Oliver Lacy, 23; Matt Turner, 20. (Middle left) Raymond Lamont Smith, 33; Richard Guerrero, 23; Ernest Miller, 22; David Thomas, 23; Joseph Bradehoft, 25; Curtis Straughter, 19. (Bottom left) Errol Lindsey, 19; Anthony Hughs, 31; Konerak Sinthasomphone, 14; Anthony Lee Sears, 26; Jeremiah "Jeremy" Weinberger, 23. HowStuffWorks/PublicDomain

Dahmer's killing accelerated wildly when he moved to a one-bedroom apartment on Milwaukee's Oxford Street, as portrayed in "Monster" (he told the FBI it helped provide him more opportunity). There he killed another 12 men in the months between May 1990 and July 1991. It's also when his crimes turned especially heinous and included post-mortem sodomy, decapitation and cannibalism. He often dismembered his victims and kept their body parts as "mementos."

"[Cannibalism] started out as experimentation," Dahmer told the FBI. "It made me feel like they were part of me."


Dahmer managed to hide his fetish for far too long, despite being questioned by the police multiple times. Once the police pulled him over while he was driving with plastic bags that contained body parts of a victim in his back seat, "I couldn't believe it; I thought I was dreaming," Dahmer told the FBI after the cops didn't search his car.

A second — and more shocking incident — was when police were responding to a 911 call for a badly beaten man. It was 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone who had escaped Dahmer's apartment. Dahmer showed up just before the police and convinced them Sinthasomphone was a friend who'd just had too much to drink. Police took the two back to his apartment and Dahmer killed Sinthasomphone days later.

Many critics — including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led an August 1991 rally to call for justice for the Black community — suggested Dahmer may have been stopped earlier if the police cared more about the Black community. Glenda Cleveland, Dahmer's Black neighbor called 911 repeatedly over her concern for the dazed and beaten Sinthasomphone.


How Was Dahmer Finally Caught?

Jeffrey Dahmer
Netflix's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" portrays the terrifying incident when Tracy Edwards (left played by Shaun J. Brown) is held at knifepoint by Jeffrey Dahmer (right played by Evan Peters). Edwards escaped and eventually led police to Dahmer's apartment. COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Despite multiple encounters with the police, it wasn't until Tracy Edwards nearly became Dahmer's 18th victim that the murders finally came to an end. Edwards, who met Dahmer in a bar July 22, 1991, went back to Dahmer's apartment, but escaped after Dahmer held him there for hours. Edwards flagged down a Milwaukee police office after finally escaping.

When Edwards reported what happened, the FBI and local officers searched Dahmer's apartment and found remains of 11 victims, plus tools used to torture and dismember bodies. They promptly arrested Dahmer, making it his fifth time in custody — and at least the 10th time police had stopped him or searched his home.


Once he was taken into custody, Dahmer waived his rights to a lawyer and confessed to 17 murders in detail. He even admitted to being sexual gratified by several of the killings and subsequent acts, something the Netflix series spends much of its time highlighting.

"A lot of that has roots in the 1980s when FBI profilers started linking serial murder with sexual sadism," Golub says. "Ever since, we've assumed there's a connection between serial killers and transgressive sexuality."

Linking these together sells stories, Golub says, even if it demonizes sexual behavior that isn't considered "normal." Of course, he says, Dahmer's crimes and confessions are horrific, but it's important to remember that retelling his story by Netflix is for entertainment value — not truth.

On Feb. 17, 1992, Dahmer was sentenced to 15 life sentences, thanks in part to the brave testimony of Edwards. Families gave victim statements in the courtroom; the one from Rita Isbell's, the sister of victim Errol Lindsey — is hard to forget.

Dahmer, 34, was beaten to death in the Columbia Correctional Institution Nov. 28, 1994, by inmate Christopher Scarver. Perhaps this was one twist Dahmer saw coming. "I know my time in prison will be terrible, but I deserve whatever I get because of what I have done," he told the FBI.


Frequently Asked Questions

What psychological traits did Jeffrey Dahmer exhibit?
Dahmer exhibited traits such as lack of empathy, desire for control, and sexual sadism, often associated with psychopathy.
How did Dahmer's background contribute to his criminal behavior?
Dahmer's early exposure to violence, alcohol abuse and isolation during childhood may have influenced his later criminal actions.